How-To & Diy

All About Cured Fish

March  5, 2013

Inspired by conversations on the FOOD52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun. 

Today, we're making gravlax to show you the basics of curing fish.

final slice

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Despite our familairity with cured fish, it maintains an air of mystique. Lox, anchovies, pickled herring, bottarga and salt cod are all products of the curing process -- cooking without direct heat, that is -- that preserves fish for longer than it would last fresh. These foods incorporate different (and old!) methods, but all are transformed in texture, flavor, and shelf-life by salt.

Lox is salt-cured or brined, and smoked. Anchovies are packed in salt and pressed for months. Pickled herring is cured in salt, rinsed, and pickled in a vinegar brine. Bottarga is fish roe that has been cured in salt. Salt cod has been salted and dried.

The world (or ocean) of cured fish is large, but today, we're focusing on the easiest method: gravlax. You coat a fish filet in seasoning, wrap, and refrigerate for a few days. And, as you'll see, the salt does all the work for you.

cure mix

Most traditional recipes for gravlax use a lot of chopped, fresh dill and a little sugar. The dill lends a heady, herbal note, and the sugar rounds out the flavor. Here, we're using a juniper berry and earl grey curing mix. Be sure to use a casserole style dish (one with higher edges), as the fish tends to release liquid in the process.

fish - spices

Lightly coat the fish on all sides with the curing mixture. You can remove the skin before you coat the fish in seasoning or after it's done curing. Either way, just remember to trim it off before you serve it.

curing mix

Once the fish is covered in the seasoning, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 4 days, turning the fish over once a day. Putting a weight on the fish is optional. It has the effect of pressing the seasoning into the fish, pushing fluid out, and compressing the fish, yielding a slightly denser texture. You can do this by putting a plate upside-down on top of the wrapped fish and placing something heavy on top, like a few big tomato cans (or a few cans of beer).


As you turn the fish, take note of how it feels. When it's done, the center of the filet should feel firm. Then, unwrap the fish, lightly rinse or scrape off the seasoning, and enjoy. Because of its strong flavor and beautiful texture, gravlax is best enjoyed sliced thin. Store it in your refrigerator for a few days after it's done or freeze it for later.


There you have it! Gravlax, demystified. Just season, wrap and refrigerate, and you'll be chowing down in no time.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Alex Txn
    Alex Txn
  • nasreenSeattle
  • BurgeoningBaker
  • laurenlocally
  • HalfPint
Alex Lampert

Written by: Alex Lampert

I love beans, bikes, brown liquor and all things green. I am the salad queen. My modus operandi of late is working on long-term curing and fermenting projects.


Alex T. July 18, 2015
I cure a couple salmon filet at a time, and I freeze them, and they have the same taste.Usually I put a splash of brandy in my salmon curing.
nasreenSeattle January 22, 2014
What kind of knife do you need to slice gravlax so thin?
BurgeoningBaker September 10, 2013
So whats the next step to make Lox then?
Claudio V. September 10, 2013
I've made tremendously successful lox/smoked salmon by following the gravlax recipe, then smoking the fish in a regular Webber. The key is to cold smoke it (you do not want the fish to cook).Use an empty can with holes poked into it and placed on top of the grill but not too close to the fish. Place one lit lump of coal in the can, and feed wet wood chips into it every 15 minutes for 3 hours (more or less depending on how patient you are).
laurenlocally March 5, 2013
I can't wait to make this. Thanks, Alex!
HalfPint March 5, 2013
I love gravlax and it's the easiest thing to make. The hard part for me is finding fresh wild salmon because I think that's the difference between good and great.
Question: how well does the gravlax freeze? I've never frozen my gravlax and am worried about the texture after thawing.
ATG117 March 5, 2013
I wouldn't freeze
Kitchen B. March 6, 2013
I have frozen my cured salmon with no great loss to quality. See
HalfPint March 6, 2013
Great! It doesn't make sense to cure a tiny piece of salmon and since I'm the only one who likes gravlax, freeze would be a great option for me. Thank Kitchen Butterfly!
hardlikearmour March 5, 2013
There are a couple of recipes for gravlax in salt sugar smoke by Diana Henry. One is a beet-cured version that is insanely beautiful with an ombré effect going from salmon in the middle to magenta on the outside. I can't stomach salmon, but it's so gorgeous I'm tempted to make it anyway!
Kitchen B. March 6, 2013
my new favourite word - Ombre!